Laser hair removal can be a daunting procedure if you don’t know anything about it. When a treatment has the word “laser” in its name, it’s natural to be concerned!
We’ve covered everything you need to know about laser hair removal below, from what it is and how it works, its benefits, how to prepare for it, what you should expect, and how to take care of yourself afterward.
In this guide, we’ve included facts about the laser hair removal process, too. Where we can, we’ve referenced other sources that back up any claims made or provide more information for those who want to go more in-depth on the topic.
What Is Laser Hair Removal & How Does It Work?
Let’s start at the beginning – what is laser hair removal?
Laser hair removal is a process that exposes hair follicles to controlled light pulses with the goal of not just removing the hair but also discouraging future regrowth. It’s touted as one of the best ways to get smooth, hairless skin that stays smooth.
You can think of it as a three-step process:
Laser beams Highly Concentrated Light Into the Hair Follicles
When you go for laser hair removal treatment, you’ll have a laser epilator pointed at your skin. These small gun-like devices are harmless, though it’s natural to feel some pain or discomfort as they do their job. They beam a highly concentrated light onto your skin that penetrates all the way into the hair follicles. Those are the tiny tunnel-shaped structures in your skin that house the root and base of the hair.
Pigments In The Follicles Absorb The Light And Destroy The Hair
Once the epilator gets activated, it quickly converts that highly concentrated light energy into bursts of heat. This is where you’d feel slight discomfort if any, but it’s enough to heat and destroy the root of the hair. When the root dies away, the hair naturally falls out and it’s much harder for the root to re-establish itself and regrow.
The Light Energy From The Laser Enters The Skin And Is Absorbed By Melanin
You may have some concerns about shooting pulses of highly concentrated light/heat at your skin but, if you think about it, your skin processes light and heat all the time. In order to find and destroy the hair root, the laser does need to be compatible with your skin’s pigmentation. We figure this out through the Fitzpatrick Scale.
The Fitzpatrick Scale tries to figure out how much different skin tones and ethnicities react to sun exposure. It’s used by many as a predictor for skin cancer and other forms of sun damage. It does this by establishing six categories, let’s go through them:
- Ivory skin with light blue, green, or gray eyes with red or light blonde hair. This type never tans, instead it freckles and burns.
- Pale skin with blue, gray, or green eyes and blonde hair. This type rarely tans but it is possible, they usually burn, experience skin peeling, and freckle.
- Fair to beige skin with hazel or light brown eyes and dark blonde/light brown hair. These can freckle, burn, or tan depending on different situations.
- Olive to light brown skin with dark brown eyes and dark brown hair. They don’t freckle much, rarely burn, and tan way more often.
- Dark brown skin with dark brown eyes and brown/black hair. They always tan and rarely burn or freckle.
- Darker brown skin with brown-black eyes and black hair. These never get freckles, never burn, and only tan a little bit.
Being somewhere at group 3 or higher may require the use of a specialized laser epilator tool that’s compatible with your skin type. This allows the light to do its job and then get diffused into the skin and absorbed by your melanin, leaving no negative impact.
The Benefits Of Laser Hair Removal
So, that’s laser hair removal! Now that you know how laser removal works, we can get into why we use it. Ultimately, it’s just another method of taking hair off our skin, so it shares a lot of the same reasons we groom our body hair in the first place.
Useful To Remove Unwanted Hair From Face, Legs, Chin, And Back
Removing body hair can be a painful and difficult process that involves areas that aren’t easily reached or they’re sensitive to things like wax or tweezers. Using laser hair removal on those areas is a great alternative. The laser can easily tackle the curved surfaces on your face and chin and it’s easier to remove your back hair when using an epilator.
While you have to rely on your steady hand when using tweezers or you need to hope that the wax latches onto all the hairs, a laser doesn’t require any input from you. They’re very precise, as lasers tend to be, and so they can target the hairs without doing damage to the surrounding skin. Some models have settings too for dealing with stubborn, coarse hairs that are giving you more trouble than the rest. They’re also so precise that they stop future growth, too, so you won’t have to reach for the wax or tweezers any time soon.
The process of sitting down and taking tweezers to stray hairs can be therapeutic for many but, if you value speed, a laser epilator has you covered. The process is much faster than waiting for the wax to stick or hunting down every individual hair. In fact, it takes a fraction of a second for a laser to fire and multiple hairs can be targeted by the same laser burst. Most epilators tackle 25 millimeters per second – that’s approximately the diameter of a quarter dollar coin.
When this speed is combined with the precision we outlined above, you can use laser epilators to tackle tricky areas like the upper lip in less than a minute!
It may take some time before you start to see results. While the process is very fast, the hairs still need to die and fall out, but we have more detail on that later in this guide. For now, let’s take a look at how you prepare for laser hair removal.
Many people get laser hair removal because it’s more permanent than other hair removal options. For many, hair will be removed permanently. For others, it’ll be semi-permanent, meaning that the hair will eventually come back but that the results will last a very long time.
Every individual is different, we regenerate and regrow our hairs at different paces, so the surest way to find out how your body reacts to laser hair removal is to have the procedure and see how long your results last!
How To Prepare
It may be fast and convenient but laser hair removal is still a medical procedure. This means you’re not just zapping your hair away; you’re getting a treatment that does have potential risks. Procedures are typically done by a technician that’s qualified in using the laser epilator (and they also know how to do it fast and precisely) so you should talk with yours to find out if you can have the treatment. Your doctor can also tell you everything you need to know.
You’ll have to do a few things before undergoing laser hair removal. While your technician may recommend others, there are four main precautions you need to take.
Avoid Waxing and Threading At The Root Before Laser Hair Removal
First, don’t try to remove your hair in other ways. You’re going for laser hair removal, so why would you pluck or wax that hair away before the procedure? The roots of your hairs are temporarily destroyed when plucked or waxed. As we’ve covered, those roots and hairs will come back faster than they will with laser hair removal, so you should wait and do it right.
Shave The Area 1 Or 2 Days Beforehand
To work properly, the laser needs to get past the hair and penetrate into the hair follicles beneath. There, it needs to find and destroy the roots at the bottom of the follicle. As you can imagine, it’s easier to do that when the hair is shorter.
Before your laser hair removal procedure, shave the areas you’re having shaved. That may sound redundant but you’re just shortening the hair, not removing it with wax or tweezers, so the laser can come in later and finish the job properly.
You should do it one to two days before the treatment so the hair can start growing back, making the follicles visible so the technician can target them. Also, your skin should be clean but free from any products or lotions. Yes, this means makeup too if you’re having hair on your face removed. You’ll want your skin to be natural so that it’s easier to get at the roots.
Avoid Sun Exposure For 6 Weeks Beforehand
You should try to avoid exposure to the sun for six weeks before your laser hair removal procedure. Of course, it’s impossible to totally avoid the sun for that amount of time. Instead, you should just keep the areas that’ll be lasered away from prolonged sunlight exposure for the month before your treatment.
The more you get exposed to the sunlight, the less effective the removal process will be. It also increases the chances of complications, though those chances are pretty low anyway. After the treatment, you should also avoid exposure to the sun for another six weeks.
Similarly, you need to avoid tanning beds for a month before going for your laser hair removal. It’s the same principle as sun exposure, tanning beds expose you to light that changes your skin! Getting shot with lasers can cause complications when you’re sunburnt or tanning.
Don’t Wax/Tweeze In Between Sessions
So far we’ve just talked about single treatments of laser hair removal but it’s a process that requires multiple treatments. It’s better than tweezing or waxing, sure, but even with laser hair removal, your roots will regenerate and regrow after some time. Those who enjoy the benefits of laser hair removal go for sessions that keep those hairs from reappearing.
With that in mind, you shouldn’t wax or tweeze between those sessions. You didn’t before your first treatment, so why would you do it between treatments? Not only will there be less to tweeze and it’ll irritate your skin more, but it’ll also be a waste of your time and money.
Let’s go into more detail about what you should expect from laser hair removal sessions…
What To Expect
If you’re sold and you want to get laser hair removal, you’re probably wondering what you should expect. While you don’t need to know the finer details, knowing how the procedure takes place can put your mind at ease and allow you to prepare and recover faster.
The average laser hair removal procedure can be summed up in four main steps. Maybe your technicians do it slightly differently, so check if that’s the case with them beforehand, but generally, you can look forward to these four things.
Your Hair Will Be Trimmed To A Few Millimeters Above The Skin Surface
Even though you’re advised to shave your hair short one to two days before the procedure, it’s common for the technician to trim your lasered area before getting to work. By removing excess hair, leaving only a few millimeters, the lasers can cover more of the hair follicle and find its target. It makes getting to the literal root of the problem easier.
Topical Numbing Medicine Is Applied 20/30 Minutes Before The Procedure
Those laser pulses come with a slight sting, so the technician should apply some sort of topical numbing agent to your skin. It’ll be applied twenty to thirty minutes before the action starts.
That may sound like a while but your technician has a lot to check and calibrate. We already mentioned above that different lasers work best with different skin colors. This is because they tend to look for pigment when identifying hair. Other calibrations must be done to account for the color of the hair, the thickness of the hair, and the thickness of the skin in your chosen area.
All of those are different throughout your body, so expect some changes to be made to your technician’s epilator while your numbing medicine soaks in.
You Will Need Eye Protection
When working with lasers and other rays flying through the air, it’s a good idea to use some eye protection. The technicians should have goggles that they give you so your eyes aren’t subjected to any of the powerful light lasers that are used during the procedure. This is especially the case if you’re having treatment on your eyebrows.
They might also give your skin a once-over with cooling gel. This cools the skin which then allows the light to penetrate further and without heating the surrounding skin too much. If skin becomes too heated, it can cause infections and other irritating complications.
The Technician Will Pulse A Light To The Treatment Area
Finally, once your goggles are on and your skin is ready, it’s time for the light show to begin. The technician will use the epilator to shoot light pulses at your chosen treatment area. What they then do is watch that area for an adverse reaction, just in case.
If you don’t have any bad reactions, the procedure will be completed. Afterward, they might give you an ice pack or some cold water to hold against the area to stop the discomfort. They may even give out creams or lotions that have anti-inflammatory properties, to be used when the treatment area flares up.
This is typically where you can schedule your next appointment, too, from four to six weeks later. You can wait longer between sessions if that’s what you want. Hair may stop growing in certain areas after a few sessions, in which case you can leave more time between them, but most hair will return in the future.
Aftercare & Recovery
Now that the cosmetic treatment is complete, you should focus on aftercare and recovery. Recovering from your laser hair removal procedure is important for your health, the quality of your skin, and the success of future laser hair removal sessions.
Your technician can give you more advice about the aftercare process and how you can heal properly afterward.
With that said, there are five things that everybody should do when they’re going through this process. A lot of them are similar to the things you should do to prepare for laser hair removal, so you’ll have experience with them already. You’ll mainly want to limit sunlight exposure while your skin recovers from the lasers.
Avoid Direct Sunlight
Just like when you prepared for the treatment, you shouldn’t expose yourself to the sun too much once the procedure is over. You don’t need to become a shut-in to avoid the sun, you should just keep the treated area covered under comfortable, non-irritating clothing and wear hats if the treated area is on your face, like near your eyebrows or your lips or chin.
Another tool in your arsenal to keep the sun at bay is to wear sunscreen. This can be done before and after the treatment so that your skin isn’t affected too much by the light. You can’t cover your entire body all the time, so we need sunscreen on certain parts of our skin that need to be bare in social settings, like the face.
This stops temporary color changes in the skin, which occurs where sunlight is absorbed by the melanin there. This is already happening with the laser light used during the laser hair removal process, so throwing more absorbed light into the mix can be disruptive and over-tan your skin. This can even cause blisters, redness, and scarring/permanent skin changes, though they are rare.
The sunscreen should be at least SPF 30 but preferably more. In the USA, it’s common that sunscreens will only use chemicals that protect against UVA rays. While that’s the backbone of protection against sunlight aging your skin, you should get a sunscreen that protects against UVB rays too. UVB rays are the ones that cause sunburn, discomfort, and pain. This kind of protection is common with Korean and Japanese sunscreen, and it should be easy to find products that offer both UVA/UVB protection in the West.
Don’t Use A Tanning Bed
If you’re avoiding natural sunlight, you’d best believe that artificial sunlight should be avoided too! You should stay away from tanning beds before your treatment, as we covered above, so it makes sense that you’d stay away afterward too.
The goal is to prevent your skin from absorbing too much sunlight since it’s already had a hefty dose of light from the laser epilator device. With that in mind, you should spend the next week or two avoiding sunlight in all its forms.
Follow Aftercare Instructions
Follow the instructions given to you by your technician and/or doctor. They’ll know your individual circumstances, which allows them to give more pointed and accurate advice on how to recover from your laser hair removal treatment. We can only give you so much advice!
Here are some of the things they’ll tell you to do:
- Avoid the sun for a week, minimum.
- Avoid tanning sprays and other tanning products that don’t involve the sun too.
- Avoid other types of skin treatment for two weeks afterward.
- Avoid hot skin contact from showers, heat packs, or saunas for a day or two after.
- Avoid topical creams and medications, and things like deodorant/makeup, for a day.
- Use sunscreen daily to keep the sun off your skin.
- Exfoliate the treated area when in the shower.
- Use over-the-counter medication if the skin gets irritated or otherwise sensitive.
- Don’t irritate the area by plucking or waxing it.
- Contact help if a blister appears, they may advise you to take antibiotic ointments.
Your Skin Will Look Sunburned For A Day Or Two
The reason that avoiding the sun is so important after your laser hair removal treatment is because it’s already burned. There’s no need to be alarmed, it’s no more dangerous than regular sunburn, and if anything, it’ll be less painful since you’ve had less exposure to your body.
The treated area will look like it has been sunburned and often feel like it too. You may be able to use moisturizers, as long as you comply with the rules that your technician gives you. The same can be said for makeup, some wear makeup afterward as long as their skin isn’t disturbed while others don’t wear it at all.
Facts About Laser Hair Removal
That brings us to the end of what happens with laser hair removal. We’ve covered why laser hair removal is beneficial to you, what you should do to prepare, how the procedure works, and how to take care of yourself afterward.
To finish, let’s take a look at the facts about laser hair removal that everybody should keep in mind when considering the treatment. We’ve also got a short breakdown of the side effects that you can expect from the procedure.
Most Patients Remain Hair Free For Months, Even Years
While everybody can expect different results, it’s not uncommon for patients to be free of hair for months after their treatment. Sometimes, the hair won’t come back for entire years!
It may take several treatments to get to this point but laser hair removal is the fastest, most convenient, and most effective means of getting rid of hair and stopping future hair growth. Follow-up treatments typically happen a month or two later but, if the hair stops growing back, you can hold off on subsequent treatments and enjoy having no body hair for longer.
You’re Likely To See Results Immediately After Treatment
If your treated area is full of smaller, lighter hairs, like the chin for example, then you should see results right after the treatment. These hairs aren’t so secure and should come away as soon as the roots are destroyed.
For more stubborn hairs, it may take a short while for the roots to die and the follicles to evacuate the rest of the hair. At any rate, the hair will stop growing, which is something you’ll notice pretty soon afterward.
Safety comes first
It’s a fact that you get the best results when your technician is skilled at what they do. Some who offer laser hair removal and similar services are board-certified as dermatologists, others are certified beauticians who have undergone additional training to be certified laser hair removal specialists.
Being qualified as medical professionals, dermatologists typically provide a good service, especially during the aftercare process. That said, they tend to cost more and may not be in as much supply as your standard spa employee.
In most areas, spas and medspas who offer laser hair removal need to have a board-certified dermatologist who oversees and trains the staff. When in doubt, ask about the qualifications and training that your technicians have gone through.
It Can Treat All Skin/Hair Types Except White Hair
People with darker skin or alternative hair types may be concerned that laser epilators can’t properly treat them. As we covered earlier in this guide, technicians use the Fitzpatrick Scale to judge which skin and hair types you have and use the right lasers to treat them, so a board-certified professional can get your skin the treatment it needs.
The epilator targets the pigment of the hair, so hairs with weaker pigments can be more troublesome. Red and very light blonde hair can be difficult but it’s not impossible to get results with laser hair removal. White hair is very difficult to treat, however.
The Procedure Should Not Hurt And Can Be Safer Than Waxing
Many feel a small, short twitch of pain during the laser hair removal process. Some don’t feel anything at all, especially if a qualified professional is doing it and the right numbing agents have been used.
It shouldn’t hurt too much, if at all, and hurts less than waxing most of the time. Waxing can also cause long-term damage to the skin, especially if you have sensitive skin, so in those cases, laser hair removal is a better, safer alternative.
Before you decide on getting laser hair removal treatment, you should be informed about the possible side effects:
- Skin Irritation: Laser hair removal causes damage to the follicles, so your body is going to have something to say about that. Skin redness/irritation is the most common side effect where your treated skin is tender, red, and sometimes swells. It should only last for a day, at most.
- Crusting: Skin crusting is a minor issue where the skin dries up to the point of cracking and flaking. A moisturizer can work, as long as it’s cleared by your technician and isn’t applied on the same day as the treatment.
- Skin Color Changes: Your skin might get slightly darker or lighter after the treatment. It’s most common for those with lighter skin to experience darker skin changes than vice versa. This change isn’t permanent, the skin will return to normal during recovery.
- Skin Infection: Damaged hair follicles present a small risk of infection. After treatment, the lasered skin should be treated as if it were a wound, which means monitoring for infection and using antibiotic creams to curtail them.
- Blisters & Burns: This side effect is more common if your technician isn’t skilled at what they do. Lasers use high heat, so technicians can accidentally burn your skin during the process. This can also form blisters in worst-case scenarios.
- Scarring: Scarring is often a side effect of a side effect. If you suffer from crusting or blistering after laser hair removal, there is then the possibility that they’ll never properly heal. This can result in semi-permanent marks and blemishes on the skin. Once again, scarring is very rare if you’re with somebody who knows what they’re doing.
You should now know everything you need to know about laser hair removal. Whether it’s the process itself, the benefits, or its side effects, staying informed about cosmetic treatments is important when it’s your own body on the line.
Fortunately, we’ve learned that laser hair removal is the most efficient and effective means of killing hair that we have today. It’s also very safe, so there’s nothing to worry about when working with lasers. While there are a few limitations, the technology behind laser hair removal is sure to improve in the future. This should make the treatment more convenient and accessible to all.
It’s important to remember that it’s classified as a medical procedure in most places. You should always work with a qualified professional when getting laser hair removal.